Jason Levin stood on a craggy hill on a Southern California ranch in late July and prepared to destroy a drone. First he grabbed the controls for an Up Air One, a remote control hobbyist model that retails for about $300, and steered it until it was hovering about 100 feet above the ground. Next he used a laptop to activate a system he’d spent the past several months building.
A second drone roughly the size of the Up Air quadcopter spun into action, buzzing like a mechanical wasp as it ascended to about 20 feet below its target. As it hovered, a crowd of Levin’s colleagues gathered around. A prompt appeared on-screen asking for permission to attack. Levin tapped a button, and the second drone, dubbed the Interceptor, shot upward, striking the Up Air One at 100 mph. The two aircraft somersaulted skyward briefly, then they plummeted back to earth and landed with two satisfying thuds. Levin grinned and explained that he hadn’t been controlling the Interceptor after telling it to attack—it finds targets and steers toward them on its own. If the first collision doesn’t take its quarry down, the drone can circle back and strike a second and third time, all by itself. “It’s a good feeling as an engineer,” he said. “You’ve put in the work, and it knows what to do. It’s like sending your kid off to college.”